Tech Fun: Slightly Geeky Things to Keep at the Office

Not only do I consider myself a bit of a tech geek, but I specialize in a weird subset of tech geekiness: tech for the office.  These are my top techy things to keep at the office — readers, what do you keep?  (Check out our prior discussions on clothes to keep at the office, as well as food to keep at the office.)

Gadgets


1. Refrigerator — This was one of my all-time favorite tech purchases for my office (and it lasted forever).  I bought a super, super small fridge for my office — so small it could barely fit a six-pack of Coke.  I kept water and soda chilled, as well as cheese sticks, lemon juice, cheese, salad dressing — even leftover food.  You can find them for around $50 (look up “mini refrigerator,” “portable refrigerator,” “travel refrigerator”) and up.

2. Extra chargers for your phone, Blackberry, and any other personal gadgets.  I’ve never regretted the $40 or so the extra cord cost me.

3. Speakers for your iPod or iPhone. This doesn’t need a lot of explanation, but you may want to brush up on the etiquette of listening to music at the office, particularly when other people can hear it.  For my own $.02, I think it’s fine to quietly listen to music if it’s after working hours, but “quietly” is the key — the person in the neighboring office should never have to come over and ask you to turn it down.

4. Phone headset. If you log lots of time on the phone — on conference calls or in meetings — a good headset might be worth an investment.

5. USB heated gloves (pictured above). If you have poor circulation and are always freezing, you may want to prepare for those long stretches in front of the computer by purchasing these USB-heated gloves. They plug into your computer and warm your hands as you type and click your way through the day.

Download

6. Leechblock. I’ve written before of my affection for Leechblock to help keep you focused.

7. RescueTime. Seriously consider signing up for this service if you’re wasting a lot of time and wonder where it went — it logs every online activity.

8. Consider installing a bookmarklet for ShoppingNotes — if you see an item of clothing that you wish were on sale, you click the bookmarklet, and  the free service monitors the price for any adjustment.  I’ve gotten some sick deals by using this service!

9. LogMeIn. Talk with your boss about this, but LogMeIn lets you log into your office computer from home (or your home computer from your office).

10. XMarks. As someone who alternates between multiple computers, I love XMarks — it syncs my bookmarks across all of my computers (and browsers).  This is handy for me, both because I have a crazy folder/filing system for some bookmarks, but also because I now don’t need to remember what device I originally found a new website.  If you upgrade to the premium (paid) version of Xmarks, it will even sync your bookmarks to your iPhone, Android, or Blackberry.

Software

Most businesses supply you with all the software you need. Still, I’ve had great success with a few programs and had to recommend them.

11. PDF Factory (or something similar). This program is hugely helpful if you sit far from the printer, if you want more control over picking up your printouts, or if you email a lot of PDF’d documents. (For the lawyers out there, it’s very helpful if you frequently review documents in .tif format, as well as if you print cases from Lexis or Westlaw.) Basically, when you click “print” you can choose to print to PDF Factory. The program opens a new window on your computer, and begins to compile a PDF. When you’ve finished printing, you can save the PDF to your hard drive, e-mail it to a coworker, and/or print it to your local printer.

12. Microsoft OneNote 2010 (or Evernote, if you’re comfortable with the cloud).  This allows you to create “notebooks” that will be word searchable, printable, e-mailable, and so forth. I primarily find OneNote helpful in working on a project — planning a vacation or a wedding, decorating an apartment — but it’s also helpful in keeping track of restaurant reviews, recipes, articles full of gift ideas, and more. (I also find it useful on an organizational and environmental standpoint, because we now have a single place to put all those articles we used to just print out and leave in various places in our apartments.) (I prefer OneNote, but I know a lot of folks out there prefer Evernote for this kind of thing.)

13. Dragon NaturallySpeaking. This is pricier than the others, but this software is extremely helpful for those of you who practice the lost art of dictation. Dictating is a great skill to pick up for a variety of reasons — it’s much easier to summarize notes from all-day meetings via dictation, or to make sense of documents as you review them without constantly toggling between screens to be sure you’ve gotten the numbers and quotations exactly correct.

Readers, share your tech must-haves for the office!

Comments

  1. We don’t have an office coffee pot where I work, so I have a small personal coffee pot, and I also find a cup warmer a necessity!

    http://www.amazon.com/Totes-Mug-Warmer-NIB-New/dp/B002CCG82I

    For anyone in construction/science/engineering I find a units converter program handy

    • Me too!

      I started a new job earlier this year and was shocked not to find office coffee. I’m an espresso lover so after a quick research, I’m the super happy owner of a Nespresso machine

  2. Threadjack:

    Is Talbot’s sizing like BR? Does it run true to size, large, or small? I want to take advantage of today’s 30% off coupon (JUST4U)!

    (My apologies if this has been asked and answered.)

    • Maddie Ross :

      I find it runs large. For instance, I am a solid 8 in BR pants and skirts, but can wear a 6 in Talbots pants and a 4 in many of their skirts. My “problem area” is my hips and Talbots seems to take those more into account than BR. YMMV though.

    • Large compared to BR. I barely fit in XLs at BR most of the time and an XL at Talbots is sometimes roomy on me.

      Maddie Ross is right that Talbots also does a much better job cutting for curvier figures than BR.

    • Barrister in the Bayou :

      Asked and answered? Do I sense an attorney? ;-)

  3. My must-haves are USB flash drive, I definitely agree with the extra phone charger, an extra screen to work from. I definitely recommend dual monitors or a laptop!

  4. The mentioned of a phone headset reminded me: I am in the market for a wireless headset for my iphone and droid. Any recommendations?

  5. Threadjack. I just went in to talk to my boss and sounded like a complete idiot, and she disagreed with my conclusion. Frankly, I was unprepared. I was rushing through this project and did not have the right mindset about it. It was completely my fault. Anyway, do y’all find it really hard to be on your game all.the.time? It just gets exhausting sometimes. It’s not an excuse. I really should have done better. Mostly, I’m just embarrassed and frustrated with myself and wanting some commiseration.

    • I don’t have advice, but can promise that I’ve been in the same boat for the last month. I have been working nonstop without sleep and I just keep. screwing. up. Sometimes big screw ups, and sometimes mini screwups. I am hoping that once things slow down and aren’t so busy here I will be able to get back on my A-game. But I am definitely embarrassed and disappointed in myself. More than anything, I’m worried that I’m screwing up a previously stellar reputation at work.

    • CA lawyer :

      I understand that awful feeling. Last week, I was kicking myself over an issue until a friend gave me some perspective. I don’t know your field or boss, so it’s hard to give you great perspective. However, it sounds like you didn’t hurt your company or your client, you were corrected by your boss. Part of being a good boss is correcting a direct report when he/she goes down the wrong path. It feels bad not to be perfect, but it’s human to need guidance from time to time.

    • Anonymous :

      Knock her out next time and call this one a Mulligan. Put it in the past and look to the future. No one has a perfect average, but you can have a rockin high average by firmly telling yourself it’s all good, you’re moving on, and then right away start (even just the tippy-top first-step start) the next thing now.

    • “Anyway, do y’all find it really hard to be on your game all.the.time?”

      Yes. It’s much easier if I have several hours every night to be myself. I am not a naturally extroverted person and my work can be exhausting. If I have to work late and don’t get a chance to recuperate before I go to bed, it’s significantly harder to bring my game the next day.

    • You’re not perfect. Sometimes this stuff happens. Just do your best and build credit you can expend for times like this.

    • A friend of mine once gave me great advice on this point. When she makes a mistake, she said she always tries to think ahead six months and decide whether she would look back and remember the mistake as a big deal. If yes, then she takes extra steps to remedy the error — maybe doing a new draft, following up with a supervisor, etc. If she either wouldn’t care or wouldn’t remember, she let it go. I thought it was a great way to give perspective to those stupid mistakes we all make when we’re exhausted but really don’t matter much in the long run. In my opinion, it’s hard to tell the difference between a big mistake and a little one when you’re exhausted — they all tend to feel huge!

    • Blonde Lawyer :

      My husband gave me great advice in this situation when I was dealing with an impossible to please boss. I’m one of those “overachieving chics” not used to negative feedback. When I came home all upset about a bad review he looked at me dumbfounded and said “is this seriously your first bad review on anything?” And I said, well…yeah. He laughed, scoffed, and said “well, must be nice.” While it sounds really unsympathetic, the reality is few people are great all the time. We are overachieving chics so it stings a lot when we mess up and get taken down a peg. As others say, we are not perfect. Nobodies perfect. Now, take a look at some of the average Joes in your office. You know, the ones just doing the work to get by and not trying to get first place. The ones that get regular reviews and no gold stars. Think about all their screw ups and that they haven’t gotten fired yet. In fact, they could still probably even get a positive recommendation. Now brush this one off and work on your next project!

      • Thanks, all! That was very nice. I’m feeling a little better and need to forget about it and attack the next project.

  6. My very best tech investment for my office (actually my firm paid for it)? A second computer monitor so I can directly compare documents/websites side-by-side, and I never have to “constantly toggl[e] between screens to be sure [I]’ve gotten the numbers and quotations exactly correct.”

    • Also: iPhone. Check and respond to emails easily and quickly from anywhere and quickly review docs on the run. Love.

    • Second the second monitor suggestion. Even if your office won’t provide you with one, they’re relatively cheap on Amazon (you can get pretty awesome monitors for less than $100) and it’s fairly simple to set up a PC/laptop to convert into a two-monitor system.

    • SF Bay Associate :

      I’ve been thinking about buying a second monitor… I have a nice widescreen monitor at home which is so much better than the small one at work.

    • anonx1000 :

      I just got my firm to buy me a widescreen monitor – mine is extra nice b/c it’s high res, but 23 inches in even a basic monitor makes a huge difference (and is not much more expensive than a 17 or 18 inch basic monitor, either).

      • Just make sure you check to ensure that your computer has the right vid card/memory for two monitors, before you spend money on it!

  7. Love these suggestions but be sure to check your company rules – any sort of coffee pot or fridge is STRICTLY forbidden at my office. Go figure…something about fire safety, overloading the circuits, and the over-use of power…..

  8. Instead of an electric coffee maker, I have a French press – bring in a bag of coffee grinds, dump them into the French press, pour in hot water, coffee in 5 minutes.

  9. If your company has a ergonomics program of any sort, they will probably pay for a phone headset for you. It is “bad ergonomics” to cradle the phone on your shoulder (at least according to my company’s ergonomics guide).

    I have a sun therapy lamp on my desk, which my employer paid for. My office doesn’t have a window, and my therapist thought a lack of exposure to natural light was contributing to my insomnia and seasonal affective disorder. It was covered under my company’s disability accommodation program with no questions asked (I submitted a letter from my therapist to HR, which stated simply that she recommended the purchase of a sun therapy lamp to treat a medical condition – she did not have to disclose what the medical condition was).

    Regardless of whether your company will pay for it, I highly recommend a sun therapy light for anyone who has SAD, insomnia, or just hates having a windowless office. Mine is a SunBox brand Desk Light.

    • I am intrigued. I have mole person eyes that don’t deal well with bright lights, so I’ve found that the white lights therapy won’t work for me because after a split second, it feels like my eyes are bleeding. Anybody ever try Phillips GoLITE BLU Light? It looks like it might be a viable alternative…

    • I just ordered one this morning! I live in Scotland and it is getting darker and darker here and I’m not used to it. I am hoping that if I flip it on once my alarm goes off in the morning (I’m a 30 minute snoozer, terrible, I know!), I will be a bit more energetic.

      • I use it for about 2 hours every morning while I’m working at my desk, and it has increased my overall energy levels on an ongoing basis. Whether 30 minutes is enough depends on the strength of the bulb and how close it is to your face – my lamp came with instructions that explained all this. But – and this is a big but if you’re snoozing while you use it – your eyes have to be open and facing the light for it to be effective.

  10. I think I read on this website recently about a good website or program to use to store passwords and logins, but I could not find it when I looked back for it. Any recommendations?

  11. What do you all think of having a mini fridge in your office? I really want one to keep healthy snacks in the office (hummus, carrots, yogurt, etc.). We have a common office fridge, but it is packed with office sodas and only has a small amount of space for people’s daily lunches. I work with mostly men, and none of them have mini fridges. I’m concerned that there’s something NGDGTCO here – like I’m making myself too much at home in my office or I’m being high maintenance by not using the common fridge. Am I overthinking this?

    • It’s probably not a big deal, but personally, I wouldn’t want to call attention to myself by being the only woman and the only person with a mini-fridge. Your fridge could become an office joke. I don’t think it would really matter that much, but personally, I wouldn’t feel comfortable.

    • I have one. I felt really weird when I first brought it in (totally snuck it in over the weekend), but have since learned that a lot of partners and associates at my firm have one. I swear by it, but I work in a pretty casual office.

    • Plenty of people in my building have mini fridges, and honestly I don’t really associate it with being female. We only have 3 common fridges for the entire floor (which is large) and it is often hard to find any space for food in the fridge. If there is some office event (which is almost weekly) you can forget about finding any space.

    • i have one, but then again, so do most people in my office.

    • I don’t know if it would be a big deal or not, but they do make portable ones that can also plug in to your car….I know a woman who used one for breastmilk. Might be another option if you don’t feel comfortable with the full-sized cube…

    • I never thought of it as a girl thing, but now that you say that, I think you’re right that most people I know who have them are girls. I got mine while I was pumping and even though I’m done now, I wouldn’t give it up. I got so sick of my food being thrown out from the main fridge. I keep a lot more healthy food at the office now too since I have the space. Especially if you can put it somewhere discrete, I would totally go for it.

  12. I just got a mini fridge for my office, and it is fabulous. I am a new mom and just returned to work from maternity leave. I used to skip lunch and snacks all the time when I was busy, but I’m nursing and need to eat enough calories and stay hydrated to keep producing milk. Keeping my lunch and snacks in my office has been a huge timesaver and I actually remember to take 30 seconds to grab a snack from my fridge, even when I’m busy. Also, being able to pump in my office and then store the milk in my own fridge has been really helpful. Nothing more awkward than storing pumped breastmilk with other peoples’ lunches in the main office fridge. Speaking of which, any other ladies who have managed to pump and keep up nursing your baby for a year, even when working full time? I work at a law firm, so the pumping is cutting into my billables, but I am committed to doing this for my baby’s first year. Any tips and timesavers? I am also trying to get out of the office at a reasonable time and could use any advice on operating as efficiently as possible during the day.

    • Diana Barry :

      Yes – I pumped until 15 months with #1 and for 17 months with #2 (they continued nursing at home morning/night afterward).
      Couple of things : (1) hands free pumping bra! (2) I only washed parts when I brought them home at the end of the day, and (3) I would pump into the same bottles for 2 sessions (the milk keeps for 8 hrs at room temp, so you don’t have to refrigerate right away).
      If you keep the pump set up – I had a little place in back of my computer that would hide it – and don’t move the parts around, it saves a lot of time setting up/taking down.

      Do you work from home at all? If you can get work done in the evenings, then take what you need home at the appointed hour and do another hour or two of work at home. I found it much easier to get everything done (and I worked better/harder) when I took the pressure off myself to get it done before 5 pm.

    • Diana Barry :

      Congrats, btw! :)

    • I pumped for 9 months with my first, so until he was 1 (and continued nursing at night/weekend for another year) and am currently pumping for my 8 month old. Some timesavers for me have been to pump and work at the same time, like researching online or reading a draft on the computer, not taking apart everything but just throwing it in the bag until next pump time, and only pumping 2x per day (though this will depend on your own supply and your baby’s needs. I have a huge stash in the freezer, so I am not concerned.)

    • Tired of pumping :

      I pumped until my first son was a year. I’m pumping for my second now – he’s almost 9 months. (BTW – I’m so ready to be done, especially traveling with my male bosses while pumping. We’ll see how the upcoming expert depositions go….)

      Store your pump parts in your mini fridge between sessions, then you don’t have to wash them every time. Depending on what kind of pump you have, buy an extra plug in and leave one at work. Saves time under your desk every morning plugging it in. Do subscribe and save on Amazon for milk bags. I get a few boxes every month automatically. I leave at 5 everyday unless I’m stuck in a meeting or on a client call. The kids go to bed at 7:30 so I can work for a few hours at night if necessary. Also get your kid on a good nap schedule so you can work during naptime on the weekends. My son takes a 2-3 hour nap after lunch.

    • I tended to read a lot while I pumped. I would print out things I needed to read (I know, I killed some trees) and read them while I pumped. I got one of those contraptions that let me double-pump hands-free so that I could turn pages. I also sometimes ate lunch while pumping.

      I spent a long time pumping each session- 20 to 30 minutes twice a day. I read somewhere that you should pump until the second let-down. I was skeptical when I read it, but there really was a second let-down if I sat there long enough, and my supply was really good throughout.

      I got good and sick of pumping for my kids by the time I’d been back to work for 6 months (babies around 9 months old.) I found that by that point my supply was OK if I didn’t pump while at work and only bf at home. Nursing a lot on the weekends helped. This isn’t what you asked for, but just something to keep in mind if you reach that point where you Cannot Look At Your F**ing Medela One More Time.

      Part of my issue was that I couldn’t pump in my office. That might have made a difference. We have interior walls that are partly glass. On the other hand, though, it would have been kind of awkward for me to lug the “horns” to the communal sink to rinse them twice a day.

    • I pumped for a year for each of my kids. I didn’t buy the special hands-free pumping bra, but I did get good at balancing things. I was able to use the computer, talk on the phone (confirmed with hubby that he couldn’t hear anything), do almost any work-related thing except meetings while I pumped. The ability to multi-task was important since I wanted to leave work early enough to spend time with the kids when I got home.

      • Careful about the phone – my mom and DH both said they could hear it in the background. I definitely second the handsfree band. Theoretically the Medela freestyle comes with everything you need to be handsfree, but it was so much easier with my Pumpease band – the Medela system leaked way too much. I also had several sets of pump parts, so just pulled out a clean set each time I had to pump and then threw all the dirty ones in a bag. Took them home at the end of the day and DH would wash them for me. Sit them out to dry overnight, pack and start over in the morning. As for the billables, I would try to work while pumping, but I definitely think my hours went up when I stopped. It’s just a big interruption when 2-3 times a day you have to stop what you’re doing to pump. I was very happy when I was done, it’s a total pain, but it’s absolutely worth it.

      • I had a friend who was on a conference call while pumping, and someone said, “What is that sound? It sounds like the engine room of a ship.” ROFL She quickly hit the “mute” button.

    • Pumping while reading this in my office. Hah! :)

  13. Threadjack:

    Our wedding was 7 months ago, and now it’s time to finish cleaning out the “wedding presents” room. Most of the stuff has been put away/returned/exchanged, etc., and now I’m down to the random stuff people gave us that we don’t have use or space for anywhere else in the house and can’t return because it’s not from a place we registered. In particular, it’s things like a crystal serving set, fancy serving tray, candlesticks, and a wind chime. I was just wondering what other people have done to deal with all this stuff…give it to Goodwill? Sell on ebay? Regift? Google search like crazy to try to find a retailer who will take it back?

    I appreciate your helpful stories/suggestions!

    • Do you like the stuff? If you like it, see if you can find a relative who has room and can store it for you for a while. Ex – my parents stored an awesome glass lamp for us for a while, and now we can use it bc we have a bigger house. If you don’t like it (eg horrible tacky frames that have “Our Wedding” in cursive written on the puffy white fabric, not kidding!), toss or give to Goodwill.

      • I think you just described one of the items I’m searching for a “new home” for! Yeah, some of the stuff is really tacky. The other problem is that the other thing taking space in this room is the of china my hubby’s mom collected before she died. A lot of the gifts were similar to stuff we already had.

        • Donate it. If you are so inclined, donate it to a group that provides services and support to military families. Our servicemen/women are incredibly low paid, and hard working. It is hard to afford necessities, much less little luxuries like nice china or duplicates (and hey, one girl’s tacky is another girl’s favorite picture frame!).

          • Agreed – donate it. I like the idea of giving to military families. I’ve also given to a refugee shelter in my area. For people who came here with little more than the shirts on their backs and who are setting up their first American apartments, nice household items are a real gift.

    • If it’s nice – i.e. if you would actually use it if you had space or if you didn’t already have something similar – I think it’s fine to regift so long as the original gifter won’t find out. Otherwise, I’d say you should sell it on ebay or just freecycle it if you don’t need the money.

  14. I swear by a work refrigerator and extra chargers. Two of my must haves! I also love Springpad for keeping my ideas readily accessible no matter where I am.

  15. karenpadi :

    For my cold office, I have a humidifier that really helps. Space heaters are not “technically” allowed so I try not to use mine.

  16. My local direct report and I share a mini fridge. I paid for it and he houses it. We thought that was a fair deal. There’s no room for it in my office.

    I have a mini fan that can run on batteries but I usually keep it plugged in. I also have a a forbidden mini heater, which I only run when I am truly desperate. (The drawback of having an office with 2 walls of windows is that the temperature varies a lot.)

    I have plug in speakers, too, with a little subwoofer. I don’t listen to music while I work, but I find the speakers invaluable for listening to web-based conferences. The speakers on my laptop are too tinny for me to be able to understand what peopel are saying.

    Lastly, I have a desk lamp. I talked about this some time ago on a migraine thread, but it’s worth saying again. If fluorescent lights bug you, it makes a huge difference to have a lamp that uses a single incandescent bulb.

  17. i have more available USB ports than outlets so i keep a spare charger for my phone, but in USB form. others know i have it, and i don’t mind lending it – it’s a lot easier when it’s a USB cord. they are also cheaper than wall chargers!

    we also have dual monitors, which i agree is amazing.

    • I keep a bunch of cables at my desk also, for charging. Visit Newegg.com, you can get cables for $3-4 a pop, which is great.

  18. This is pretty low-tech, but you can pry my stand-up desk out of my cold, dead clutches. I’ve tried everything from the Cadillacs of office chairs to straight-up Swiss balls, and a stand-up desk is one of the best presents I ever gave my back.

    Also a vintage cocktail set and bottle of whiskey. And before Ru demands “pics or it didn’t happen,” there are pictures on my Tumblr!

  19. I am so happy to live in a world where USB-heated gloves exist. Score one for tech. (Just bought ‘em off of Amazon – thanks Kat!)

    Also, my headset for phone calls is invaluable. Love that thing (company provided at my request).

  20. A Keurig with a large reservoir. Tastier and less grody than the office coffee; cups are easily obtainable from Amazon; and hot water is great for teas and noodle soups.

    • Just have to say – points for use of the word “grody”. I have not heard that is *sooo* long. Grody to the max, man! :-)

      • That would be “in”, not “is”. I must have upcoming-vacation brain.

      • Thanks! My husband uses “grody to the max” on a regular basis (where appropriate, but also in jest) so the word stays in my rotation more than I would like!

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